Murder of Yale graduate student raises bullying/violence and school/work relationships

The killing of a Yale graduate student and lab worker, Annie Le, allegedly at the hands of a co-worker, Ray Clark, has been grabbing a lot of headlines in this region of the country.  Initially treated as a missing persons case, days later it became a murder investigation as Le’s body was discovered in the basement wall of the Yale lab building in which she worked.  The emerging facts behind this tragedy reveal some of the cusp lines between workplace violence and bullying, as well as those between student  and employee status.

Even with a suspect under arrest, the investigation of this death is still at its early stages.  And we must remember that allegations are not tantamount to guilt.  (Campus events can easily turn into a mob scene.  Recall, for example, the wrongful accusations of rape lodged against members of the Duke University lacrosse team in 2006.)  Thus, any conclusions we draw from this situation must be preliminary ones.

That said, Kathy Hermes, coordinator of the Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates and a professor at Central Connecticut State University, recently sent around a statement addressing some of the implications of the Le killing.  With her permission, I provide a significant excerpt immediately below:

******

We have all been shocked and horrified by the murder of Annie Le at
Yale. A graduate student who also worked in a lab, she was the co-
worker of her alleged killer, Ray Clark. Based on news reports, we do
not know much, but we do know that Ray sent emails to her that berated
her for her lack of proper protocol concerning the lab’s mice. It is
this kind of petty tyranny that workplace bullies inflict upon targets
every day. It is not every day that they murder their targets, as Ray
Clark is charged with doing.

Recently, a former student athlete at CCSU, where I teach, has alleged
that his coach, George Kewacki, made him drink blood in front of
teammates. http://www.newsnet5.com/news/20974558/detail.html

While there are racial overtones to this incident, it is also an
instance of bullying. Like Annie Le, the student athlete hovers
between “school” (bullying is banned by law in CT schools from K
through 12) and work (there are no workplace bullying laws).

In that space, college/work, the opportunities for bullying are rife.
So much depends on one’s performance and compliance, from scholarships
to housing to careers, that targets are naturally reluctant to speak
out.

If you have experience as a graduate student worker, or as a student
athlete, and you have been bullied, please write to your state
legislators. Ask them to include in the Healthy Workplace Bill
provisions for protecting those who are also the employees of their
colleges or are holding some sort of contract for services rendered.

-Kathy Hermes, coordinator of Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates

******

Here is a link to the New Haven Register’s story archive on the killing and aftermath: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/09/17/news/new_haven/doc4ab23ca3c02f7136037500.txt.

2 responses

  1. The American Psychological Association and NIOSH agree that less than nonviolent and civil communication styles in the workplace are not just issues of manners and civility but are also issues of safety. Hostile, aggressive and abusive communications may indicate propensities for further belligerence or violence, and there is no excuse for them in the workplace. The death of Annie Le at Yale University has opened not just a few eyes to the importance of having Healthy Workplace, Anti-Bullying legislation and policies for reporting and resolving abusive communications incidents. We are particularly now aware of obsessive controlling behavior as potentially abusive.

    But I live in Sonoma County, CA and my experiences in libraries, educational institutions, and with their unions suggests that officials and our community leaders could care less about these issues and are not interested in requiring dignity, respect, and the protection of all in the workplace. And god help you if you should report abusive communications to HR or blow the whistle on inappropriate or illegal behavior.

  2. Pingback: Workplace violence in higher education settings « Minding the Workplace

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